A quick scan of viral stories from around the internet reveals that readers are quick to believe garbage health claims, like cheese is as addictive as crack, bagels cause cancer and eating processed meat is as bad as smoking.
It’s clear that people need more help understanding the difference between anecdotes and evidence, how to evaluate the methodology of a study and how to know the difference between correlation and causation.
But how, and when, should people learn these critical thinking skills? As early as possible, writes Julia Belluz of Vox.
Belluz writes about a trial in Uganda that’s trying to teach school children important life skills, the paramount one being how to “detect bullshit when bullshit is being presented to them.”
Researchers created a fun, age-appropriate curriculum explaining key concepts from the book Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare and recruited more than 15,000 students to participate in a randomized controlled trial that divided the students into two groups: those who learned science literacy skills, and those who didn’t.
Currently, the researchers are evaluating the results of the trial to see how well children retained the information, and how their answers compare to the students who weren’t exposed to the new teaching material.
Of course, one thing the researchers probably haven’t considered are the effects that critical thinking may have on other parts of a child’s life, beyond evaluating health claims. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy may not be long for this world if this curriculum succeeds and becomes a standard part of classrooms worldwide.